Ho Chi Minh City eyes construction of helipads on high-rises

The city currently has around 10 functional helipads atop its buildings.

People climbs onto a hovering helicopter during a fire drill in Ho Chi Minh City.

Ho Chi Minh City announces intentions to build more helipads on top of the city’s high-rises to improve firefighting and emergency response capabilities.

Buildings with at least 20 floors will be thoroughly examined to see if they are suited to accommodate a helipad, according to the city’s administration.

The southern metropolis currently has around ten functional helipads atop its buildings, according to survey results from the municipal Fire Police.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Thien Tong, an expert in aviation engineering, asserted that equipping the city’s emergency teams with helicopters should be encouraged.

Victims caught in fires are often trapped on the building’s highest floor without a means of escape, Tong said, making helicopters an optimal rescue option.

For larger buildings, adding a helipad is not a challenge and offers is a relatively cheap solution to fire-safety fears, assuming the terrace is spacious and capable of withstanding the weight of a helicopter, he said.

Tong also noted, however, that rescue helicopters don’t always have to land to pick up passengers, so the construction of such helipads should be encouraged rather than compelled.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nguyen Van Hiep, former dean of the Civil Engineering Faculty at Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology, suggested that helipads only be built on newer buildings.

Meanwhile, architect Ngo Viet Nam Son rejected the idea of requiring helipads on all buildings with more than 20 floors, as a helicopter’s firefighting capabilities are limited by their ability to only pick up ten people in each landing.

While hundreds of buildings in the city satisfy the height requirement, not all are designed to withstand helicopters, according to Brigadier Le Tan Buu, chief of the municipal Fire Police.

Tran Trong Tuan, director of Ho Chi Minh City Department of Construction, said helipads could also serve to boost tourist activities by allowing commercial helicopters to land across the city.

In addition, he said, some certain public buildings, such as hospitals, should be required to have helipads for emergency purposes, despite being less than 20 storeys.

Brigadier Buu suggested that the city draft a plan to gradually increase the number of helipads in the city, while working closely with military units in rescue missions.

According to a circular by the Ministry of Public Security effective since 2016, each special-status metropolis in Vietnam is to be equipped with a maximum of two helicopters for firefighting and rescue missions.

However, as of today, both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have yet to add a rescue helicopter to their fleets.

Red tape

In principal, the construction of any type of landing space for aircrafts, even helipads, must be approved by the Ministry of Defense with consultation from the Ministry of Construction, the Ministry of Transportation and the provincial administration, according to Vo Huy Cuong, deputy head of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam.

The detailed design of such a project is to be approved by the Chief of Staff of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAV), Cuong said.

After construction is finished, the developer must submit relevant documents to the General Staff of PAV for helicopters to be allowed to land and take off from the helipad.

The Civil Aviation Authority and the Ministry of Defense are also required to provide consultation on such projects.

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